#UnRefreshing How Pepsi’s Cause Marketing Annoys Me

When Pepsi made the very public decision to skip Superbowl Advertising in favor of Social Media, a lot of folks felt like Social Media would be legitimized. Since the Refresh campaign would live mostly online, it could prove to everyone, for once and for all, that Social Media is better investment than Mainstream Media.

I’m sure at a corporate level, the Pepsi Refresh project is a smashing success. At a social level, I find it unpleasant.

Pepsi launched their Refresh campaign during SXSW (South by Southwest), and my friend Mark was the recipient of the first grant they offered. I was happy to campaign for him. I spammed twitter for two days straight, and, even though I don’t feel good about it, I did it. Mark was able to secure $50,000 so that he could continue his work at Invisible People. Since I’ve seen firsthand the impact of the videos, it was easy for me to feel passionate, and to spread the message. What was not easy for me, was to involuntarily be promoting Pepsi.

I don’t like Pepsi. I don’t make it a habit to drink soda, but if you’ve ever eaten a hamburger with me, you’d know that I do order a Diet Coke to go with it. I also take a weekly run to a taco truck and sometimes drink a Coca Cola. Does that mean that I’m primed to promote Coca Cola? No. This is my vice, not my passion. Pepsi and Coke contribute to obesity, pollution, and bone loss. I could go on and on, about useless plastic bottles, and the many ways that Pepsi makes itself a bad global citizen, but I won’t.

I’ll just ask you, my readers, to be a bit more thoughtful. How much of our lives are we willing to give to gross polluters? Is social media for sale? At what price?

The problem is that saying you don’t like these contests is going to hurt someone’s feelings, and it won’t be Pepsi. When I click over to the Refresh Everything page I see this:

An exercise class to fund raise for Lupus Research is a wonderful idea. Who wouldn’t want to exercise? Who doesn’t want to see Lupus end? I’ll be Esther Nuevas is a fantastic lady, and I’ll also bet that most conversations she’s having today include Pepsi.

All for $5,000.

Pepsi has used such incredibly manipulative marketing practices (I’m not willing to pretend that this is charity), that if I tell you how totally unrefreshing I find this, I’m the enemy. Obviously I want people to have lupus, right? Wrong.


Currently children are creating campaigns so that they can get gym equipment into their high schools. I want kids to have weight rooms. I want kids to have a great PE curricula, but I don’t want Pepsi in our schools, and you shouldn’t either. A quick search at Pepsi’s site shows that they have wiggled their way into at least 1,121 schools. Let’s just pretend that it’s only 200 kids at every school, that means that at an uber conservative minimum Pepsi has successfully branded itself to 224,200 highly impressionable teens. Nothing about this is okay.

Our children will be the first generation ever to have shorter lifespans than their parents.

Our children will die young from the food they are putting in their bodies.

Michael Hoffman, the CEO of See 3 Communications had a lot to say about cause marketing. The folks at See 3 work exclusively with nonprofits, foundations, associations, and social causes. Michael lives and breathes this stuff.  I asked him what he would say to someone before they entered one of these grant contests (Chase had one recently and I’m pretty sure we’ll see a lot more of them).

He said:

I was just with someone from Invisible Children that won the Chase $1 million. They spent 5 years building a grassroots network through offline events – film screenings, tours, lobby days. It was this network that won the $1 million, not some online magic. Maybe there were 5 orgs, from the 100 finalists in that contest that had anything close to that kind of network. The others COULDN’T win. So what I would say is… You have to access your ability to mobilize people for these contests and if you don’t have a large and dedicated existing network you are probably wasting your time.

Sometimes, this kind of contest can get orgs that have done little online to begin building their networks. America’s Giving Challenge, from the Case Foundation, included a lot of education about social media with their contest (some of which we helped develop), and so many orgs became adept at using the web, even if they didn’t win the money at that time.

I wonder, how can we create something that brings incentives for organizations to work together, rather than competition with each other.

Locally The Roxy, The Viper Room and the Comedy Store have worked together to grow all their businesses. Can you imagine if charities worked this well together?

Michael adds:

Overall, I think corporate brands are realizing that no one really cares about their checking account or their brown sugar water. These products lack meaning. They are commodities. And so in many ways the brands need our causes more than our causes need the brands. They need to infuse their commodity products with meaning. They need to give me some reason to care.

At what point are we saturated with these events, and the vacuous corporate greed begins to impact our causes? This isn’t just about contests, it is about cause marketing. For example, Susan B. Komen sold out to KFC in a cynical move to brand cancer-causing food as something that will help in the fight against breast cancer. Komen’s brand now means more about greed than cancer.

Pepsi has another agenda, which is they don’t want us to really think about what we have been pouring into our kids and how it impacts their health. If they sponsor healthy things, a weight room, for example, then they can associate their product with healthy living and they can bribe schools to keep their soda machines and not join the fight against childhood obesity by going after the sugar-water peddlers.

We’ve asked for authenticity within social media. We’ve prized it, we’ve rewarded it. What do we ask of our charities?

It was wonderful and novel when the first few charities secured money, but it’s tiresome now, and everyone wants money for something.

Can I ask, at a bare minimum, that each and every one of you work to keep Pepsi from branding our school children?

53 thoughts on “#UnRefreshing How Pepsi’s Cause Marketing Annoys Me”

  1. I so agree with you Jessica. As a s,mall non-profit helping homeless people express who they are through art, music and film, we have participated in several of these corporate scams masquerading as do-good crusades. I am glad someone finally called it for what it is – manipulative marketing.

    The Hearts Of Fire Project no longer participates in these campaigns and as was pointed out, they don’t usually work for small organizations (it is amazing that Invisible People pulled it off). Although we don’t use these corporate charades to raise funds, we must raise money from somewhere. So I can understand why others participate.

    I suspect that many people like me, are conflicted about whether to participate or not in these corporate marketing games to whitewash their image. Perhaps we can just bypass the games and support the causes we believe in.

  2. We have our weekly Boy Scouts meeting at a local private high school cafeteria since most of the boys go to the attached private elementary school, they let us use the cafeteria for free every week. There are 4 drink machines right outside the cafeteria. One has water & juices, one has Coke products, one has Pepsi products and one has different kinds of Gatorade.
    Back when I went to junior high & high school, about 25 years ago, they didn’t have soda machines in school. Kids could bring them in their lunch if they wanted to but it wasn’t very common. There didn’t seem to be such a strong affinity for carbonated beverages when I was younger. They have exploded in the last few decades and become part of the average household’s grocery list. Milk, bread, eggs, cokes, paper towels.
    I can’t judge anybody for soda consumption. I don’t drink them. I haven’t for over 13 years. I made a decision to stop all carbonated drinks and haven’t had one since that day I decided to give them up. But I do let my kids have them. They have many choices of drinks -Sunny D is always on hand, bottled water and V8 Fusion juices are always on hand, tea, but also sodas. My daughter prefers Sunny D, while my son prefers Dr.Pepper.
    I use to make them drink diet drinks to save them from consuming so much sugar but the kids lobbied and begged for regular drinks because they said the diet drinks are so nasty. SO I got them regular drinks with full calories.
    I make alot of food choices for myself, like being a vegetarian that I don’t extend to my kids. I do limit how much sodas they can have, 2 a day, which is alot I know.
    SO I won’t be a hypocrite and condemn sodas until I can eliminate them from our lives. Then I still won’t judge anybody who still uses them. I try not to throw stones. But I never have bought Pepsi just out of preference. Nothing political. But they have found their way into public and private schools alike.

    • Peggy, the best way to change their habit is to remove it from the house. Then if they still feel the need to drink it like Jessica does on occasion they can when they are out.

  3. I think I’m having deja vu over the whole Lunchables hashtag debacle from a few weeks ago that you posted about. I’m no social media expert and am a simple-minded SAHM, but I loathe soda and broke my own habit several months ago (I was only drinking one per day, not that that justifies it). It’s no wonder 1 in 3 of our children are obese. I am trying to get my husband to give up Diet Coke and my kids have never tasted a drop of soda, period. Juice may not be much better, but I water it down.

    I am all for finding a cure for lupus, etc., but I totally get your point.

  4. Thank you for this post Jessica. It has been suggested repeatedly that HAMO participate in this type of competition and we haven’t jumped on it because 1) we don’t want to spam our supporters 2) not really into the American Idol spirit of the campaign. As the household budget decision maker, I personally would much rather see corporations doing good – authentically. Tell us what you are doing to help the immediate communities your company has direct ties to. Show us how you are being outstanding corporate citizens not only with the charitable work you support, but also how you treat your employees. If it happens in an authentic way, we’ll know it and might even end up a customer for life.

    The jury is still out on whether HAMO will ever enter this type of competition. I’m with the previous poster: npos need to raise money from somewhere. The question is – what is the best way to do this? Ask our supporters to tweet/facebook a brand name or simply ask for monetary support..

  5. Jessica, what a fantastic post. You brought depth and insight to an issue I had only considered peripherally, and I’m glad to now have this valuable perspective. I’m pleased that the Komen/KFC campaign was mentioned, too, as it seems utterly laughable to me that large buckets of greasy fried chicken are appropriate tools with which to combat breast cancer. Just because these opportunities exist doesn’t mean they’re worthwhile or even complementary to a philanthropic organization’s ongoing strategy.

  6. sorry. love you. love your convictions. but 20 million bucks to worthy causes is 20 million bucks to worthy causes. more good than bad in my eyes.

    (and btw, i don’t drink any soda)

    • Of course it is wonderful that $20 million was raised for these causes. But where do we draw the line? The huge cost of the vast obesity epidemic that Pepsi and others have caused using high fructose corn syrup and the unknown damage from the chemicals in these products far outweighs the money they have donated.

      It sounds good to say that people are responsible for their choices and is a favorite point of the companies that profit from our choices. However, when you construct an impenetrable maze of mass media marketing, product propaganda and misleading information and also control food distribution, retail and media outlets, free choice becomes a deliberately contrived illusion.

      As you demonstrate, it is a very effective strategy and one that has been used for many years to appease critics and marginalize opposition. In fact, the success of this “hush money” is a good example of the way corporate America has succeeded in polluting our minds and spirit as well as our environment. It is truly amazing what money can do.

      • Bob, I take childhood obesity issues very seriously. Soda of any kind was never served at my table at home. ‘Mommy soda’ was cranapple and seltzer, our compromise. My kids grew to drink soda in moderation as a result. (lucky me, deprivation sometimes causes them to want things more)

        But I think that ‘hush money’ is a bit dramatic here. No one is holding people down and pouring soda down their throats or into the mouths of their children. There is no crime being committed here. And there is no purchase necessary to obtain grant money, correct?

        Choice. People eat, drink, imbibe by choice. Honestly, do you think there would be less drinking of soda if there were only private label choices? I think that perhaps the blame here is a bit over-inflated. And to shun a company at the point when they are doing an incredible amount of social good is probably not the best timing.

        Other companies spend the 20 mil on a Super Bowl spot and there is no uproar about what they are doing to our kids. Pepsi makes the choice to make a difference and they get shunned. I don’t see the point.

        • also, it’s not $20,000,000 to a charity, which would make a HUGE difference to someone.

          It’s small grants, with the biggest ones most noticeably going to the celeb supported charities. Listen, I love that Demi Moore took a moment to talk about protecting our girls, but let’s be frank, she could have written a $250,000 check on her own.

          I would argue that Pepsi has done more than $20MM harm

  7. Great post. First off, I’m feeling a little (a lot) naive because I’m like, Pepsi is in schools? Also, it’s hard to feel bad about money going to worthy causes and people who are motivated and working for those causes, but what Michael Hoffman said really struck me: “the brands need our causes more than our causes need the brands.” To step back from the charity issue and look at it more broadly, as you put it, how much of our lives are we willing to monetize? Are our causes, our work, our networks, being sold too cheaply? I think we bloggers (even small bloggers) need to put a higher value on our content and most definitely on our social networks.

  8. I have to agree with amyz5 on this one. I’m not a fan of the charitable contest nor some of the crowdsourcing approaches to charitable giving that are eminently gameable and superficial. But I think: (i) that the current third sector landscape is deeply flawed, and the status quo approaches to cause marketing are part of the problem; (ii) that corporations giving less than 5% of the approximately $315 billion that is donated annually needs to be addressed in some fashion; (iii) that the likelihood of corps contributing and helping their customers contribute to the non-profit sector increases (and persists) the greater the probability of positive impact on their business; (iv) that they will spend the marketing budget regardless, so why not have it serve a hybrid (even-if-imperfect) purpose? ; and (v) that there are ways to conduct grassroots, customer-empowered microdonation campaigns that are impactful, transparent and authentic. One of the great things about social media is that lip service and contrived cause marketing and brand lift programs don’t go unpunished. One of the not-so-great things is that people are quicker to publicly fry innovators if they don’t get it perfect the first time…

  9. Wonderful post and a big thank you for mentioning how Komen did sell out to KFC! I could not believe that! How can a company who states it wants to find a cure, partner with a company that sells cancer promoting foods? I would have loved to have seen them partner with Dr. Joel Fuhrman, help promote his wonderful books or they could recommend everyone have a copy of the book, The China Study, on their shelves. I was blown away when I saw the cute little pink bucket of KFC! Soda has been out of my child’s school for a very long time. Thank you for such factual information and we all do need to take a stand and protect our kids.

  10. This is an incredibly tough and complex issue.

    Of course it is marketing.

    And I don’t love the dog and pony show either.

    And yes, not a huge fan of Pepsi as a corporation. My Dad drinks it. My husband drinks Coke. I don’t drink any soda and hope my kids stay away from it, too.

    I, too, am a fan of keeping faux-food and beverage out of our schools.

    And yet…I like the idea that corporations see cause marketing as a way to reach a certain segment of consumers. Better than just seeing patronizing advertisements as a way to reach them.

    And where to draw the line is a good question. I would not feel comfortable with taking money from certain corporations–but there are others that I would not whole-heartedly endorse but I would still take their money for a good cause. I’d much prefer to receive support from socially responsible corporations. I’d much prefer that charities don’t have to go through the dog and pony show of vote-getting. But I think if Pepsi offered money for a cause I believe in, I would take it.

    Although voting is an expenditure of social capital, it can when used wisely actually multiply your social capital–use it or lose it. As someone who has raised money for my university before, I learned this lesson.

    Assuming corporate charity social media campaigns are here to stay…how do we want the companies to run them? I suspect your answer will be that they’ll have to pay you a good chunk of change for that advice ;) …but it is just something I’ve been considering and discussing with other friends in various related fields.

  11. So I started a blogging group with a wonderful group of immigrant moms at a local English Language Learning Parent Center in my community (www.momfromanothercountry.blogspot.com). The computers at the center are sad, old beasts and soooooo sloooooow. When I mentioned how much I’d love to see the center get some 21st century equipment, the center director told me she had applied for a Pepsi Refresh grant to help do that. You pimped your cause through this program; I’ll pimp mine. (And ahem, I voted for your cause…) If center gets a grant, maybe I’ll buy a 6 pack of Sierra Mist to celebrate, and then I’ll return to my normal soda buying habits, which is to say not buying soda at all, save for the occasional party. I would love for the center to get new computers.

    I’m with you on the KFC thing. That is over the top and frankly, was disappointed to see it promoted through BlogHer.

    • This is why I hate it. You see, every day, many times a day there are amazing things happening, and who wouldn’t want to see your group funded?

      I know we kicked off the Refresh Challenge with Invisible People, and I love that a worthy cause got the money, but I hate that Pepsi has me painting them as the good guys. They are not good guys.

      What’s the number Kim? How much did y’all ask for?

      Don’t we know enough people in tech to get computers for this group of yours? Seriously, you work with brands all the time.

  12. p.s. I would love to see you do a post specifically on how Komen has partnered with KFC, completely ridiculous! After I saw that, it made me think twice about signing-up for the Race for The Cure, a race I do every year. How can I participate with a group that is selling out those they are trying to protect and represent!?

  13. OK, disclosure – my company runs cause-marketing campaigns, and we ran a piece of Pepsi Refresh at SXSW. We run about 100-150 campaigns a year and 80% of them have both a charity component and a brand component. Some like the Check-in for Charity campaign (we also ran at SXSW w PayPal, Microsoft, and Foursquare) require a simple action on the consumers’ part – each check-in driving 25 cents to Save the Children, for instance. Sometimes we auction off celebrity items on eBay, with proceeds going to charity. In all, our team of 20 helped raise millions of dollars for charity last year, and we feel pretty good about it.

    But we don’t feel like what we do isn’t marketing. It is. It’s effective too.

    See there are three players here: the Consumer, the Nonprofit (NPO), and the Brand. Both the NPO and the Brand are getting something out of this exchange. The NPO gets funds for programs, the Brand gets recognition and engages with many consumers.

    The consumer, as with all marketing, has to make the decision.

    So Jessica, I don’t mind you saying you don’t want Pepsi in your schools – it’s perfectly reasonable for parents not to want their kids drinking soft drinks.

    But the NPOs and Brands are walking into this eyes open. I guarantee you anyone who’s ever written a grant proposal looks at these contests as just a variation on that theme. And exhorting donors to support programs is a daily part of a nonprofits existence. Maybe it’s more in your face than you’d like it, but that’s up to you as the consumer. You can shut that out or let it in. I trust the folks entering these contests to decide whether or not its worth the effort, how much to ask for, how hard to push.

    As for the Brands, I’ll give you another guarantee: Pepsi is going to spend marketing money no matter what. Wouldn’t you rather some of it do some actual good in the world? Our organizing principle is to use the leverage the Brands already have to create as much good as possible.

    Is it a perfect system? Of course not. And as a consumer you have every right to bow out. Not all marketing works, or is intended to work on every audience.

    But any system that gives Mark Horvath a chance to better pursue his dream seems to me like something that should be pursued and made better, not rejected out of hand for failing to be pure enough.

    • Currently Project Angel Food is vying for $250k grant.

      I love Project Angel Food, and I’ve supported them since they were in a church basement, but PAF wouldn’t give Pepsi to the dying people who rely on them.

      Is $250,000 their number? I guess so.

  14. It really is a complex issue that has multiple layers to it. No doubt there is a relationship between Pepsi and various issues. I am not phrasing it that way to marginalize it either, but it is hard to quantify things.

    For the sake of this discussion I’ll continue to use Pepsi, but we could substitute it with another brand. I’d love to be able to say that their responsible for 20% of pollution, 30% of obesity etc. But I can’t say that and I am not sure that the numbers exist.

    When we were children we played outside all day long. Our parents didn’t worry about our being kidnapped, raped and or molested with the same sort of “active” worry as we do. We tended to walk to and from school and in general exercised more than kids today. That has an impact.

    Now let’s hop over to non profits. Almost all of them face stringent budgetary issues. Money is a constant battle that eats up time and resources that could be devoted towards achieving the goals of the non profit.

    What would happen if that money problem went away or was dramatically reduced. Some people might deem cash from a corporation like Pepsi to be “blood money” but I am not sure that isn’t true of all or most corporations.

    It is a knotty problem.

  15. A few years ago, HorseAbility (theraputic riding for kids & adults w/developmental & physical disabilities), received a $50,000 grant from Pepsi. Now, they need a new riding ring and a variety of equipment – the owners of the stable do not fund this. So will I vote? Yes. Do I hope they get it? Yes, because I hope my daughter can be a part of the program next year or the year after. Will I do very much more than that? No. And contrary to the hopes of Pepsi Corporate, they have not gained a customer in myself or my family.

  16. Jessica, you are the cat’s meow. This is such a FABULOUS post and handy too, as one of our fans just asked me if we were going to apply for the Pepsi grant. For all the reasons you state, no, we won’t.

    Boy, if there was one grant I’d love to get, though, it would be to persuade the government to regulate the advertising and marketing of products that undermine healthy decision making like Pepsi, infant formula, processed food, Nestle . . . even breast pump companies like Medela are marketing their pumps so aggressively that moms think they can’t breastfeed without them. The grant would also ensure that K-12 curriculum includes an ongoing course on seeing through marketing gimmicks. Know anyone who would fund that?

  17. I know that for many people this comment may seem as though it’s coming out of left field, but this post is exactly why we need to take back our government from the grip of corporate America and start making this a better, smarter, healthier country for its citizens to live in rather than a one-stop shop for every corporation to systematically fleece the American people.

    Another great post Jessica.

  18. Interesting discussion. I don’t claim to know what is right, but I know that as a mom and consumer I vote with my dollars, and we do not buy soft drinks at all.

    For me it has been well over 15 years with the very occasional soda like you mentioned with a burger (and this is not a regular habit either). My husband recently gave up soda completely as well because my kids told him it was bad for him. None of the kids drink soda, by the way, and I guess my tactics worked.

    On the other hand as someone in the social media sphere I see a lot more of this going on, and I have supported various causes that are brand/non-profit/social media all tied together. I honestly don’t see a problem with it, but those are my ethics and convictions.

    I retweeted during the SXSW to support Invisible People, but that doesn’t mean I support Pepsi with my dollars. Maybe it’s a fine line, but I’m comfortable with it.

  19. Cause related marketing is debatable in and of itself. It alters the way a nonprofit does its work, and anyone in the nonprofit business who denies that has either never been a part of CRM or didn’t pay sufficient attention.

    But when you add CRM to social media, you create this whole new animal. I feel like we are all collectively trying to make sense of this “brave new world” that Twitter and FB have created and this is a great example of how much work we have left to do on that.

    I am very involved in the nonprofit community and I use my FB presence to push a lot of my personal “causes.” (Not CRM, just straight PR.) But I can already feel some of my FB friends becoming jaded about my issues and organizations.

    What am I saying here? First, I am saying thanks to Jessica because I think you made us THINK about this issue and that is a very good thing. Second, I am saying thanks to Jessica again because in making us think about this issue, hopefully you have made us all a bit more mindful about how we use social media. Third, I believe that folks will eventually (soon?) tire of being inundated with these campaigns and they just won’t do much good anymore. So the companies will move on to the next big thing.

  20. Cause related marketing is debatable in and of itself. It alters the way a nonprofit does its work, and anyone in the nonprofit business who denies that has either never been a part of CRM or didn’t pay sufficient attention.

    I am curious about this. What sorts of changes are you referring to?

  21. This topic gets me all riled up. I hate what industrial food is doing to our kids, and the soft drink industry is the worst. I do love an ice-cold Coca Cola, but I rarely indulge because I know what’s in it. I took down my ad network which was bringing in a pretty nice little chunk of grocery money each month because I refuse to endorse the crap food that they were advertising. I hate the crap being peddled to my kids at school, but when I complained, you know what they said? The sales of the junk food snacks pays for their text books. Oh, so we’re going to put chemicals into our kids body so that we can feed their minds? That makes a helluvalot of nonsense. ARGH. Sorry, you hit a nerve. Keep preaching, sister.

  22. Great post Musings. You aptly illustrated the clash of values that we face around money. One of the reasons the human race survived this long is because of our love, trust and reliance on others. The corporate capitalist propaganda has seriously damaged the connection among human beings by systemically shifting our reliance on each other to a dependance on them.

    At some point, each of us will have to be willing to put our survival or at least some aspects of it at risk. Slogans like “give me liberty or give me death” were not just some kind of American rallying cry. These words and others like them were uttered by real people who really did put their lives and all their possessions at risk for what they believed.

    Are we willing to do that for what we believe? Or will we continue to sacrifice our beliefs, our hearts and our integrity to make a buck?

  23. Jack – Using CRM to raise money for a nonprofit is different in practice and in spirit than pure philanthropic fundraising. With the latter, you are asking a donor to support your efforts/cause with the ROI being the good work that you will do. Sure, they may be eligible for a charitable deduction, but the real value proposition is that you are going to take their money and improve the world in the way that your organization improves the world.

    When a nonprofit engages in CRM, it first aligns itself with a corporate interest. The organization then asks its supporters to buy / read / join whatever it is the corporation has put forth to raise money. This affects the brand/goodwill of the nonprofit. It alters the relationship between the nonprofit and the corporation. It means that when the corporation makes a mistake, then the nonprofit’s brand may be affected. For example, the Komen / KFC campaign launched at roughly the same time as the launch of the KFC Double Down “sandwich.” No doubt Komen got a few calls about that one. Moreover, the nonprofit’s staff resources are allocated to managing the relationship with the company, both the good (money that comes in) and the bad (any controversies.)

    I am not saying that CRM is bad for nonprofits. I haven’t made my mind up about it all. But what I am saying is that when the tax code was written and section 501(c)(3) established “charities,” the idea was that there were certain things we wanted to see happen in this world that would not happen or not happen well without some sort of favorable tax treatment. The notion was that people would give money and support the organizations about which they cared, and the government would say a little thank you in the way of a potential tax deduction. This is the way that charities have operated for a long time, and their infrastructure was largely set up around this model. CRM is different and therefore the organizations must behave differently.

    • Kris,

      You are spot on. CRM flies in the face of true major gift development strategy. It may be another channel of revenue for the nonprofit, but I think the organization needs to think long and hard about the implications of these decisions and what it says about their own reputation and ‘brand’. (Are we done with that word yet? I think we’ve killed it.)

      I know in my past work as a Development Director there were numerous times where an organization had the chance to receive a significant gift, but we had to consider where that gift was coming from and if it would be wise to take it. As painful as it is, sometimes you need to say no to protect your long term strategy and key donor relationships.

      I agree that Komen has most certainly had some fallout from their decision. I’ll be curious to see what others end up regretting decisions. Hopefully not many.

    • Hi Kris,

      I understand what you are saying, but it doesn’t always work in the manner that you have described. Sometimes a business (could be a corp, or an LLC etc) decides that they wish to support a particular charity. They don’t have to establish a relationship with the charity beyond providing them with whatever sort of donation they choose, financial or otherwise.

      That doesn’t require any sort of behavioral adjustment on the part of the non profit. Although I suppose that one could argue that they are less likely to bite the hand that feeds them.

      I agree with Pammer that there are times that a charity does not want to align itself with some potential donors, it makes perfect sense to me.

      But having been involved with a lot of charities I have seen first hand the struggles to generate the revenue that is required to keep them going so I am hesitant to pooh pooh ideas that work.

      And cause marketing does work. When handled properly it is very effective. In a perfect world people give back because it is the right thing to do. In a perfect world they continually donate so that charity xyz can continue to do good work.

      We live in a world of consumption and as a result it is important to find ways to leverage that. To me cause marketing makes sense.

      If I understand what you have said we’re not necessarily that far apart because I don’t believe that you are saying it shouldn’t be used, just pushing some questions about it.

  24. Jessica,

    Thanks for your post – I definitely understand your concerns about Pepsi Refresh, and where you’re coming from. While you may not always agree with our positions, we do want to take the time to listen to other viewpoints.

    There are many voices discussing Pepsi Refresh and similar efforts online, and we’ve assembled a team of experts including Global Giving, GOOD, and Do Something to make sure that Refresh meets its full potential, and truly helps bring inspiring ideas to life.

    We also think it’s important that our fans and critics alike know about some key commitments that we’ve made: we’ve removed full-sugar beverages from US schools, and will do the same worldwide by 2012. We’re also working to help educate children about making healthy choices, and are involved with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Just this week, we pledge to remove 1.5 trillion calories from our foods by 2015.

    We don’t have all the answers, but we’re committed to working with government and other industry leaders to make sure that we help our children make healthy food choices. And the Pepsi Refresh Project is just another way we hope to make a positive impact on our community.

    Bonin Bough
    Global Director of Digital and Social Media, PepsiCo

    • I’m delighted that Pepsi is listening.

      What would it take for you to not market to my children? We will obviously be at an impasse about food and drink quality issue, but I’d sincerely like to know what it would take to get the marketers off of school campuses.

      It’s interesting that you reference GOOD. The minute your partnership with them began, I stopped listening to what they had to say.

      Today’s LA Times has an interesting article about the Aquarium of the Pacific, you see they took money from BP for an exhibit, and they are now in the middle of a (well deserved) public relations disaster.

      I understand that this is good for Pepsi, and short term it’s good for a few of these groups, but long term the partnerships are one sided, and it’s disingenuous to give teeny tiny amounts of money to solve problems that you’ve created while making billions.

      All that aside, how can I get you out of the schools? Not just full sugar soda, all of it.

      If someone from Pepsi can get the kids out of the mix I’ll stand on a soapbox and talk about the good you are doing.


  25. I wish I had something substantive to add, but you’ve said it all. All I can say (er, shout) is hear, HEAR! Well, maybe a bit more…

    Authenticity is acting in alignment with one’s values. When causes compromise their values to participate in competitions like this one, and ask their supporters to do the same, it’s the opposite of authenticity. And in social media, people will see straight through it.

    For To Mama With Love, we were lucky enough to be sponsored by Organic Beauty Now (@organicbeauties), a brand whose values align with ours. They also truly collaborated with us – it wasn’t like Pepsi Refresh, where the rules are dictated by the brand primarily for their benefit, but we worked closely together to create a great experience for us, for them and for the supporters who shared the effort. Organic Beauties didn’t even require people to tweet or follow their brand to raise funds – instead they 100% supported efforts to spread our shared meme-#ToMamaWithLove by contributing $1 each time someone tweeted our hashtag. In the end, they were delighted with the outcome, with millions of impressions, and quadruple baseline sales, during the week of our campaign.

    I hope more nonprofits will choose sponsor relationships that align deeply with their stated values, and that more brands will recognize the potential benefits of authentic, heartful support of causes that are important to their communities.

    I also hope more potential supporters, like you, will opt out when causes ask you to compromise your personal values. If it’s ineffective, neither brands nor nonprofits will continue to pursue these strategies.

    One final point: I am OVER opportunities like this competition and so many others that reduce the potentially transformational act of giving to the dehumanized, robotic act of pressing a button. Tap into people’s humanity. Ask people to meaningfully engage. Encourage deep, real connection to your cause. Rehumanize giving & activism.

    Each time you invite people to invest time, energy or money in a cause, invite them to give with all their hearts. IMHO, only contributions that originate from love can ever truly have an impact. It’s not the dollars that create change, but the intention behind them.

  26. Great post – thank you. Really gave me something to think about as someone who makes an effort to vote in things like this.

    I keep thinking over and over what Michael Hoffman said is spot on:

    “Overall, I think corporate brands are realizing that no one really cares about their checking account or their brown sugar water. These products lack meaning. They are commodities. And so in many ways the brands need our causes more than our causes need the brands. They need to infuse their commodity products with meaning. They need to give me some reason to care.”

  27. I support you – most especially your willingness to be unpopular. If more people had that talent, the world would be a better place.

    Pepsi, forget it.

  28. Once again, you tell it like it is. And it is a complex relationship, that of causes and cause marketing partners. I think Michael Hoffman’s thoughts (a man whose opinion I respect immensely) really sums it up – these challenges are only effective if you are utilizing existing networks to rally supporters, or using it to create a network. But the other side is – it’s great money for causes that have real grassroots engagement. I saw you rallying the Invisible People supporters, and was right there with you. I believe in Mark’s cause, and many of the others, and I believe that companies can use causes effectively for a win-win.

    As the KFC-Komen branding fiasco shows – cause marketing is most successful when fitting together the appropriate cause with the appropriate corporate partner. There’s a disconnect between fried chicken (obesity) and health (fighting cancer). There’s the same disconnect between Pepsi (unhealthy foodlike substance) and kids. When there is no disconnect (such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and hormone-free dairy farming), then cause marketing is at its bets.

  29. I’m in a tough spot too. I live in New Jersey and my son has Tourette’s. I’m voting. Soda is always going to be around but my child is three-and-a-half and hasn’t had a drink of it yet. I don’t drink it either, although I can’t do much about my husband’s addiction to Coke. As parents it is up to us to educate our children about how bad this stuff is, and if we are so willing, educate other parents as well. If Pepsi is doing anything good to counteract their crap, then I say let’s take advantage of it as much as we can.

  30. I worked to advocate for an organization that made it into the top 100 finalists for the Chase Giving contest on Facebook. They were one of those organizations that did not have the kind of online support networks that the Invisible Children had, as many of their supporters are older and do not have Facebook accounts. However, with months of very little sleep and dedication, they made it to the final round. We were all very disapointed to hear that there were questions about the votes of the top few organizations being illegitimate. Chase never investigated the claims, leaving many wondering. Do you have any comments on the legitimacy of these types of contests?


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